An Ode to the Class of 2021

by Anjali Yedavalli

In a year with so many disappointments, there were also moments when sincere gratitude flowed.

As a member of the Class of 2021, I feel we bring an interesting perspective to the discussion about the effects of COVID-19. Both starting and ending senior year in this pandemic was far from pleasant. This was supposed to be a year of closure—of being able to experience goodbyes with teammates for the last time, competing in the State Series, cheering in the stands at our last football game, the final moments at Homecoming and Prom, or getting to perform in our last productions, and take that final bow…

Gratitude rang high this year despite all the complaints; after all, many of us were able to continue our education, be it remote or in person, and many of us stayed healthy and were not severely displaced by the impacts of the pandemic. But the same cannot be said for everyone. The pandemic sometimes seems like a blanket experience—though while it imposed the same rules on everyone, the pain was not evenly distributed.

Some days we were able to keep our heads high and keep gratitude at the forefront, but other days we were just seventeen-year-old kids who so desperately wanted the year we were promised. I felt my own self fluctuating back and forth between these two states, between the endless gratitude for what I did have, what I did get, and the endless aching for what didn’t exist and never, ever would.

It was the inability to perform live that hit me the hardest. Our school was able to put on a masked, socially distant production of the musical “Little Women,” record the show, and stream it for audiences. I had the honor of playing the lead role of Jo March. It was a completely unexpected joy in my life and an experience I will treasure forever. But I will never forget walking in the theater in the weeks following the recording and seeing the rows of empty seats. “Those seats were supposed to be filled with people,” I thought to myself. “And I was supposed to run out during bows and hear their applause and know that I had done something good.” It was difficult to come to terms with the fact that I would never experience the joy of playing a character that I so deeply connected with and loved to a live audience, and to not get to share her with the world in the right way felt like a cruel, ironic end to my journey through high school.

But the truth is, that joy came in different ways. It appeared in the laughter during the technical difficulties at our Zoom rehearsals, or the very first time we all got to see each other and rehearse in person—or the gratitude that we even got to do it at all. And suddenly, I had this realization that fighting so hard to tell a story when the world made it feel impossible was probably the most “Jo March” thing I could ever do.

I won’t try too hard to dig for the silver linings, but I do know that throughout this year, it was made apparent that the fighting spirit within each of us is a lot stronger than we initially thought. There are moments we will grieve forever, but there were also beautiful moments we never expected to have. And most importantly, it’s clear the growth we’ve experienced as individuals has prevailed, which will always be a priceless thing.

Congratulations to the Class of 2021. Our school’s senior class motto this year was a quote by C.S. Lewis: “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” I find this fitting. Looking back at this year feels like looking at a puzzle with tons of missing pieces—but the reality is that bigger, better puzzles are waiting to be finished in the days to come.

About Anjali Yedavalli

Anjali Yedavalli is a senior at Dunlap High School. Aside from taking academically rigorous classes, Anjali is involved in Speech Team (IHSA State qualifier in 2020), Student Council, UNICEF Club, the school plays, Jazz Choir, and is the Madrigal Queen of Dunlap’s Madrigal choir. Anjali’s main goal in the community is spreading passion for both academics and creativity. She has organized and led multiple public speaking workshops for middle school students and volunteered her time at North South Foundation, an organization dedicated to funding underprivileged children in India. In addition, she has joined and contributed to the Dunlap Young Musicians, a student-created music group that performs at senior homes on the holidays. She is also active in her Sunday School (Chinmaya Mission) and has helped write promotional songs and plays to help fundraise for the school. Last but not least, Anjali is a classically trained Bharatanatyam dancer of Mythili Dance Academy and has contributed to shows that have raised over $500k for a variety of charities.